How 1923’s Brandon Sklenar Harnessed Spencer Dutton’s Trauma

After the resounding success of "Yellowstone" and its prequel series "1883," creator Taylor Sheridan has set his sights on an even grander storytelling venture with his ongoing miniseries, "1923." Serving as a prequel to "Yellowstone" and a sequel to the events of "1883," this ambitious show follows a new generation of Dutton family members during the Prohibition era after World War I.

At the heart of "1923" is Spencer Dutton, portrayed by Brandon Sklenar, who plays the youngest son of James and Margaret Dutton. Spencer's narrative is deeply rooted in personal trauma, influenced by the horrors he endured during the Great War and his ventures as a big game hunter in Africa.

Seeking solace in a dangerous and isolated existence far from his Montana ranch, Spencer is eventually called back to his roots when his family needs him the most.

Spencer is a man who thrives on living life on the edge. This coping mechanism stems from the acute loss and pain he has experienced throughout his life. While hunting wild cats in Africa, he encounters the charming Alexandra (Julia Schlaepfer), and the two fall in love. However, their paradise is shattered when Spencer commits a crime in self-defense, further complicating his journey back to America. Sklenar aptly captures Spencer's emotional turmoil, discussing the character's traumatic past, which colors his experiences as a young man on the verge of losing everything.

Season 1 of "1923" ended with a major cliffhanger, leaving Spencer's fate hanging in the balance as he becomes separated from Alexandra and further distances himself from his intended homecoming. With a second season already in the works, viewers can anticipate Spencer undergoing trials that will test his mettle as the savior his family desperately needs. It is heart-wrenching considering all that Spencer has already endured, from losing his father at a young age to witnessing his mother's tragic death. After enlisting in the US military during World War I, Spencer's experiences scarred him enough to seek out dangerous game in Africa.

Sklenar discusses these formative incidents and their impact on shaping Spencer's character. Despite enduring immense personal trauma, Spencer exhibits deep empathy, a testament to his difficult childhood and a life marked by extreme hardships. Sklenar notes, "His whole life has been rooted in trauma... Spencer could go one of two ways. Thankfully, he went in the first direction." Throughout "1923," Spencer's empathy shines through as he chastises a safari guide for their lack of empathy following the death of a hunter. His refusal to engage in direct conflict showcases his commitment to practicing kindness whenever possible.

Unfortunately, Alexandra and Spencer encounter a series of obstacles in the show, including surviving a shipwreck and risking death while lost at sea. After being rescued, they face another challenge in the form of Alexandra's ex-fiancé, the Earl of Sussex, Arthur. Seeking to assert his claim over Alexandra, Arthur challenges Spencer to a duel aboard a ship bound for London, resulting in Arthur's unfortunate demise. The lovers face criticism from the British royal family, who hypocritically accuse them of dishonor. Spencer finds himself banished from the vessel and separated from Alexandra. The weight of guilt and empathy is likely to weigh heavily on Spencer, as his long-awaited homecoming is now jeopardized by insurmountable odds.

Sklenar also touches upon Spencer's need for constant thrills and danger as a means of feeling alive, an escape from the pain he endures. Grounded by his empathetic instincts and motivated by his dire circumstances, Spencer must make a choice about the person he wants to become. Regardless of the path he selects, it is certain to leave a lasting impact on his life and the Dutton family legacy.

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